Tag Archives: Molly Stevens

pinot and pan sauces and cooking for two

One of the biggest adjustments for me with this new cohabitation thing has been figuring out dinnertime. Suffice it to say that the food of my bachelorette days just doesn’t cut it when it comes to feeding a hungry guy (wait, you mean dudes aren’t down with scrambled eggs or a “big salad” and three bites of reheated lunch leftovers for dinner every night?!).  So my new challenge in the kitchen is to come up with meals that are satisfying for the male half  of the household but not too taxing after a day’s work*. That, and planning ahead enough to have certain ingredients on hand so as to minimize after-work errand-running that cuts into my cooking time.

*I should note that said dude does cook for me every now and again and that my being the one to make dinner is more a control freak issue on my end than him “expecting” me to do it!

That said, there’s a part of me that chafes at the thought of the fast-n-easy Rachel Ray-style school of cooking. I’d rather spend all Sunday in the kitchen making a huge pot of stew or something else we can reheat a couple times through the week. I’m fine with making the occasional quickie meal (pasta puttanesca or weeknight omelettes are favorites), but sometimes I want something a little snazzier; plus, someone complains if they feel too protein (ahem, *meat*)-deprived for too many days in a row.

Having splurged recently on some nicer-than-usual wines at Western Market, I decided to try a recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while, a braised salmon in Pinot Noir from Molly Stevens’ excellent book All About Braising. Folks, I’ve sung the praises of this book and its recipes many times before, and if you haven’t yet picked it up I would highly recommend it! Although the recipe required some slicing, dicing and infusing, it was really easy and I was able to do the prep work while the side dishes (a Wehani rice and some Puy lentils) cooked. All in all I’d say the meal took a little over an hour, not too much effort considering the fantastic results.

I wasn’t sure if my skillet handle was ovenproof so I decided to do the braise on the stovetop. The salmon came out a tiny bit on the dry side (my fault, not the recipe’s), but paired with the flavorful sauce, it was still very good eats. The red rice and lentils were the perfect earthy accompaniments to the mushroom and bacon-laced wine sauce.

I was inspired a few nights later to pan-sear some venison tenderloin and make a similar pan sauce of shallots, mushrooms and wine. It’s a shame that Marvin wasn’t home to enjoy it with me; he was in NYC for his first gallery show (nice, right?) so I had the tenderloin all to myself. I would’ve waited to make the dish for us both, but due to a freezer debacle (cough*dontbuykenmore*cough) I was trying to use things up before they spoiled. I salted the meat, seared it in clarified butter to medium, then let it rest while I cooked shallots in the butter and deglazed it with red wine. The mushrooms were cooked in a separate pan while the meat was cooking, and added at the end. I ate it with the lentils and rice left over from the salmon dinner and it was nothing short of spectacular. Next year I’m begging my dad for more tenderloin! Also, I want to try one of these venison tenderloin recipes from Hank Shaw’s blog when I have the time/ inclination to get slightly fancier.

I just want to leave you with this: If you’re cooking meat in a skillet and not making a pan sauce, it’s like leaving money on the table. Any crusty bits that remain contain so much flavor and it only takes minutes to create a sauce that will have you scraping your plate. I also like to make pan sauce from chicken drippings that remain after roasting a chicken in a cast iron skillet. Red or white wine can be used, just use whatever you’re drinking. For red meat, cognac or brandy can be used instead of wine; just boil the sauce enough to get rid of any harsh boozy flavor. If you salt your meat, you shouldn’t need to salt your sauce, but taste and see. A couple turns of black pepper is de rigeur as well.

Salmon Braised in Pinot Noir with Bacon & Mushrooms (adapted from All About Braising by Molly Stevens)
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Notes: I scaled the recipe down to serve two, but this version serves four. If making for two, halve the salmon quantity and reduce the other ingredients by about 1/3.

4 wild-caught salmon filets, skin-on, each about 6 oz and about 1 ½ inches thick
4 ounces mushrooms, regular button or a mix
5 slices bacon (about 4 oz), cut into ½-inch strips
1 leek, white and light green parts only, washed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced small
1 small shallot, chopped
2 cups light, earthy red wine such as Pinot Noir or a cru Beaujolais (not Beaujolais Nouveau) (yes I know that’s bossy but you’ll thank me)
3 sprigs fresh thyme, each about 2-3 inches
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Examine the salmon to see if it contains any pinbones by running your finger down the center. If you feel any small bones, remove them with a tweezer or needle-nose pliers. Season the filets with salt and a little pepper and set aside.

Brush any dirt from the mushrooms (I like to just peel them by gently pulling the outer layer off, just don’t wash them with water). Trim the bottoms of the mushrooms and separate the caps from the stems. Thinly slice the caps and set aside. Dice the stems and reserve separately from the caps.

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Prepare the braising liquid: Select a skillet just large enough to hold the salmon filets in a single layer (12-13 inches diameter). Add half the bacon to the cold skillet and cook over medium heat until it cooks through and renders much of its fat; do not allow to crisp. Increase the heat slightly, adding the leek, carrot, shallot and mushroom stems and sauté until the vegetables are soft and just beginning to brown. Add 1 cup of the wine and the thyme and bring to a rapid simmer until the wine is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup wine and simmer an additional 5 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, fry the remaining bacon in a medium skillet until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel to drain. Discard most of the bacon grease and add 1 Tbs butter, swirling off the heat to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the mushrooms and sauté over medium high heat until the mushrooms have thrown off their liquid and become golden.  Remove from pan and set aside. You will reuse this skillet to finish the sauce. so just leave it on the stove, no need to wash it.

When the sauce base has cooked, add the salmon, skin side down. Cover tightly with foil and/or a lid, and place in the oven. After 15 minutes, check the salmon by discreetly slicing into the thickest part of a filet; if you see just a bare hint of dark pink, it’s done (it will continue cooking as it rests).

Remove the salmon to a plate and cover with foil. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into the medium skillet, pressing down with a spoon to obtain as much liquid as possible. Bring to a rapid simmer for 2 minutes and reduce to a gentle simmer, whisking in the remaining 1 Tbs butter.Add the reserved bacon and mushrooms and the parsley. Taste for salt and pepper, adding if needed.

Plate the salmon and top it with the sauce; serve immediately.

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molly stevens’ best braised cabbage

I own a lot of cookbooks, so it takes quite a bit for me to become so enamored with a cookbook that I make several recipes from it within the span of a few months.  But that’s exactly what happened when I purchased All About Braising by Molly Stevens a couple years ago.  The fact that I haven’t written more about it here is partly due to “blogger backlog” and partly because I made some of the recipes before I started blogging.  Please believe me when I say, though, that this cookbook ranks in my top 5 for many reasons, not least of which is this cabbage.  I first made it for a St. Patrick’s Day potluck, partly because cabbage is traditional but also because I was kind of broke and cabbage is really cheap!  To my surprise, the dish went over like gangbusters- who knew?!  I had never heard cabbage described as “amazing” before; I even had a professed cabbage-hater tell me they liked it.  Long braising makes the cabbage melt-in-your-mouth tender, and a blast of heat at the end of cooking caramelizes the dish and brings out all its mellow sweetness.

I’ll go on a little bit of a tangent here to tell you about the other reasons I love All About Braising, since I probably won’t ever get around to giving this book its own separate “review” entry.  First of all, the recipes are solid.  I have made five or six of them and not had any duds or problems whatsoever.  Secondly, it’s very eclectic- there’s a great variety of recipes inspired from all over the world.  I’ve made the Chicken Do-Piaza, Chicken with Star Anise, and Goan Chicken, and all were stellar.  (Yes, I do eat meats other than chicken; I also used Molly’s recipe as a guide when making these oxtails.)  The only recipe I didn’t absolutely love was an Indian-style braised cauliflower (I found it to be a little lean), but that could also have something to do with the fact that cauliflower is not a favorite of mine.

Back to our cabbage- this is one of those dishes that you make and think to yourself “Why have I not been cooking this for years?”  I made a roast chicken the other day and, along with some leftover butternut squash & sage risotto, this was a perfect rustic side dish.  If you’re having a big holiday spread, this would be a great addition since it only takes a few minutes active prep, yields a lot, and works out to about 25¢ per serving (take that, Wal-Mart!).  I wanted to post it before Thanksgiving and didn’t have time, but really it’s a good side dish for any winter meal.

Molly Stevens’ Best Braised Cabbage (from All About Braising)
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The only deviation I have made from Molly’s recipe is that I don’t bother turning the cabbage over halfway through the cooking time like she does.  The first time I made it, I forgot to do it, and found that it made no difference whatsoever; the cabbage was still perfectly cooked throughout.  Seasoning on both sides prior to cooking also eliminates the need to flip.

1 green cabbage, approx. 2 lbs (ok if it’s over)
1 carrot
1 medium to large onion (about 8 oz.)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chicken stock (use vegetable stock or water for vegan version)
sea salt, pepper, & dried red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 325°.  Core your cabbage; if it weighs over 2 lbs, remove a wedge or two and reserve for another use.  Cut the remainder into 8 wedges.  Peel carrot and cut it into coins.  Peel and slice the onion into ¼-inch-thick rings.

Brush a 9 x 13 baking dish with a little of the olive oil.  Season the cabbage wedges with salt & pepper on both sides and place into the baking dish, overlapping them slightly.  Scatter the carrots and onions over the top.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.  Drizzle the remainder of the olive oil over the vegetables, and pour the ¼ cup stock or water into the bottom of the dish, tilting slightly to distribute.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours.  Check after an hour or so to make sure the pan is not dry; if it is, add a small amount of water or stock.

After 2 hours, remove the foil and increase the heat to 425°.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the cabbage begins to caramelize and brown a little on top.  Sprinkle a little sea salt on top (I like to use the chunky kind) and serve.